The Perils of Periodontal Disease

Just like you, your dog needs its teeth brushed every day.

By Susan Bertram, DVM | Posted: Thu Apr 3 00:00:00 PST 2003

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Palatable enzymatic veterinary toothpastes, designed to be swallowed, create chemical antibacterial and anti-plaque effects. If you get around to brushing your dog's teeth only once or twice a week, however, you'll have little effect on slowing periodontal disease. Research has shown that plaque buildup can produce gingivitis in as little as 48 hours. Once the soft plaque has mineralized into tartar, it must be removed by scraping.

Getting your dog accustomed to having its teeth brushed may take some time. If your dog refuses your initial attempts to work within its mouth, a veterinary visit may be needed to create a clean slate for your efforts. You also may need to slowly train the dog to accept your hands in its mouth. Begin by touching its muzzle, work up to its lips, then try running your finger along its teeth. Praise and rewards work wonders, and remember to stop before the dog shows fear. The process may take weeks or months to overcome hard-core resistance, but your daily efforts guarantee the good health of your pet.

Dog owners whose hectic lives preclude daily brushing still can offer their pets special anti-plaque or tartar-control treats, such as enzymatically treated rawhide strips, and tartar-control edible biscuits. New dog food is also on the market specifically designed to help dental hygiene.


Periodic professional cleaning of your dog's teeth will still be necessary, no matter how diligent your home care routine. Experts emphasize the importance of ultrasonic scaling and polishing versus hand-scaling of tartar. "Hand-scaling knocks off the visible tartar and looks pretty but hides the underlying problem, which is bacteria or plaque," Dr. Lommer said. "Hand-scaling also produces microetches in tooth enamel, so plaque builds up even faster. It's actually worse than if you did nothing."

High-Tech Treatment
Ultrasonic scaling removes plaque above and below the gum line. It has been shown to actually kill the bacteria that cause periodontal disease, so you should verify that your veterinarian will be using ultrasonic equipment on your dog. Also check that a power polisher is used after scaling to smooth out the tooth surface and discourage plaque retention. The use of antibiotics in treating periodontal disease is somewhat controversial but may be prescribed to reduce bacterial infection of the gums. Referral to a veterinary dentistry specialist is necessary in severe cases of periodontal disease.

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